Michael Sheehy, IESE MBA 19 intended to pursue a corporate career post MBA but ended up co-founding an e-scooter subscription business with two of his IESE classmates instead. Here is his story.
Are entrepreneurs born or made (in business schools)?
The word ‘entrepreneur’, was first coined by Richard Cantillon, an Irish-French economist, in his book Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en Général (written around 1730!), where he defines entrepreneurs as non-fixed income earners, risk-bearers and people that brought equilibrium to the market by correctly predicting consumer preferences.
Richard happened to be from the west coast of Ireland, just like me. In fact, he was born in my same rural hometown, but that doesn’t have much to do with me taking the road of an entrepreneur. Coming into the IESE fulltime MBA, I was consciously not looking for education and experience on start-ups, as I had already been running my own asset-management business in the renewable sector for about 8 years then. Instead, I came to IESE in 2017 in search of a corporate career in a multinational or consulting, as I was starting to feel the toll of being involved in my own company, other family businesses and the resulting blur between work/life balance. IESE for me was to take a step back, to build a great international network and use it as a platform for a future career in Spain with my family. But that plan got slightly side-tracked from day 1 semester 1.
IESE’s core subjects
You will hear a lot about the triple jump in the MBA, where the most determined will change location, sector and function. But as the MBA progresses you will find out on your own terms that this appropriately only applies to a minority of the class with specific motivations. Most of your classmates in the MBA will choose to go back to some elements of a career they previously knew. On day 1 of class, I found that I was immediately applying key principles of managerial accounting, leadership and decision analysis to my own business, the best case study I had. IESE promotes an open-door policy between students and professors, and I found myself knocking on doors to help me restructure balance sheets, focus on financial performance, and communicate more effectively with my contractors. Various citations say you retain 5-10% of learnings from a lecture, and up to 50% if you engage in a group conversation, but coming into the MBA with existing family business or start-up problems to solve will guarantee you are retaining the majority of what you learn.
The IESE summer internship (entrepreneurship) experience
The first real taste of entrepreneurship at IESE comes in the summer between the two years. Most students will be looking for corporate internships to try out a new sector of interest or get an early foot in the door of a preferred corporate. If that does not suit you or work out for you, you can also choose to take the Summer Entrepreneurship Experience (SEE) in IESE.
In the summer of 2018, I chose the corporate internship experience, working on an energy moonshot in an innovation lab in Barcelona, with a great multinational team and mentors that I can still lean on for advice. But during that summer, my future business partners, George and Max, were working on the SEE programme, where they were building the foundations of a great team with great ambitions for gomeep.com. You can read more about the SEE programme in this blog post.
Be it the SEE programme or a corporate internship, the summer period of the MBA will give you a great opportunity to understand the team of people you want around you when you take the next steps in your career. You can learn what is your best fit within a team, what kind of people complement your weaknesses, and how the team can leverage each other to be greater than the sum of its parts.
The IESE exchange programme
For me, though, the defining moment in what I would do after my MBA came in the exchange programme at the start of the second year. I uplifted my wife and 6-month old son and took a plane to the Bay Area in California, where over 20 international students landed at Berkeley HAAS School of Business for 4 months. An incredible experience for anyone that has the budget to consider the IESE exchange programme. Apart from a mild winter in the amazing California and its great outdoors, the highlights of Berkeley were:
- access to the start-up and funding scene in Silicon Valley,
- a whole new cohort of network opportunities,
- access to a $24 million dollar innovation lab for rapid prototyping, and
- the flagship Entrepreneurship class in Berkeley, which finishes with a VC pitch.
During my time in California, the seeds were sown for what would become my post-MBA career, the launch of gomeep.com, Europe’s first subscription service for electric kick scooters, aimed at city commuters. Leveraging the HAAS entrepreneurship programme and resources, my fellow co-founder Max and I prototyped two electric skateboards and set out a business model, which we stress tested at our end of term VC pitch. After positive feedback, we took the idea back to Europe, with room for improvement.
IESE Overseas Modules and Independent Study Project (ISP)
In January 2019, we gathered further momentum using the IESE ecosystem, by adding the third co-founder to the team, George Parker, who had previously worked on the SEE programme with Max. We all took part in IESE’s Overseas Modules in CEIBS Business School in Shanghai. After one week of intense classes and factory visits in the business capital, we flew down to Shenzhen – the world’s manufacturing hub – and built our first relationships with supply chain managers and factories.
Back to IESE in February with plenty of food for thought, we headhunted (or plagued, depending on your point of view) renowned Spanish VC and in-house IESE Professor, Luis Cabiedes, to mentor us for an ISP to take gomeep.com from an idea to reality. Luis pushed us outside of our comfort zone to prove the market and, stretching all our abilities and resources, we managed to convince three people to sign up for their very own all-inclusive electric scooter subscription in February 2019.
Fast forward to end of the MBA programme in May 2019, after bootstrapping a website, a payment platform, an asset management system and, of course, our own branded electric scooters, and we had achieved our first key metrics for the project, proving demand and growth:
- we had 20+ users scooting around the streets of Barcelona, with insurance, servicing and home delivery, all included for €39 a month,
- we had more potential users knocking on our door, and
- we had recurring revenues… albeit not exactly enough to cover 3 post-MBA salaries!
With these milestones and using all our learnings and resources from the MBA, we spent the final month of our MBA building out the financial model and growth strategy of the business and pitched it to our mentor as an investment opportunity. After some stress testing, our project mentor became our business investor, by giving us the ultimate reward of a seed investment in the idea, to allow us to turn it into a business.
Today, one year later, we have a fully operational business, a growing team, and over 300 scooters in our fleet with more demand than we can serve.
There is always an element of luck when it comes to being a successful entrepreneur, but with the framework, resources and far reaching network in the IESE eco-system, the odds are stacked in your favour and you have all the tools you will need to turn an idea into something more.
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